At least nine Pakistani soldiers have been killed by a roadside bomb in the tribal area of North Waziristan, the military says.
The improvised explosive device was placed on the roadside between the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan and the border with Afghanistan, a military spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
The soldiers were in a bus when the bomb exploded on Thursday morning, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, told journalists at a press conference.
Several were critically injured by the blast, but the military did not provide an exact figure of those wounded.
Security forces shelled suspected Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] bases in North Waziristan in retaliation for the attack, sources told Al Jazeera.
The TTP leadership is based in North Waziristan, and has been waging a war against the Pakistani state since 2007, calling for the imposition of Shariah law in Pakistan and for the country to cease supporting the US military mission in neighbouring Afghanistan.
An abortive dialogue process between the TTP and government remains at stalemate, after the TTP refused to extend a ceasefire last month.
In a separate incident on Thursday, another soldier was killed after gunmen fired on a checkpost in the South Waziristan tribal area which neighbours North Waziristan, Pakistan’s military said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani military successfully test-fired a short range surface-to-surface missile capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads, the military’s press wing said in a statement.
The Hatf III (Ghaznavi) missile can carry its payload up to a range of 290km, the statement said.
Addressing troops at the test site, Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif said that Pakistan had “one of the best command and control systems and [its] armed forces […] are fully capable of safeguarding Pakistan’s security against any aggression”.
The test came as Pakistan’s newly-appointed ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, expressed hope on Wednesday that the two countries would be able to resolve their bilateral disputes during his tenure.
Tensions have been high between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, and the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi has requested additional security as India goes to the polls, citing an increased number of threats to its staff during election season.
On Thursday, Tasneem Aslam, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office, told journalists in Islamabad that the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan had “stalled”, and that the Pakistani government would revisit the issue once India’s government was in place following elections.
“We have a number of outstanding disputes with India which need resolution – Kashmir being one of them and the most important,” Aslam said.
“We want to have peace in this region. It is in that context that we need to resume the dialogue process and focus on finding solutions to outstanding disputes. The resumption of dialogue is […] crucial for both [countries],” she said.
US FBI agent released on bail
Aslam also confirmed the arrest and subsequent release on bail of a US citizen, who is said to be a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, in the southern city of Karachi.
Joel Cox was arrested on Sunday by authorities at Karachi’s airport, as he tried to board a domestic flight carrying 15 9mm bullets and knives.
The US State Department confirmed that the arrested individual was an FBI agent, and that the US government was seeking his release.
“This individual detained is an employee of the FBI, who was on a temporary duty assignment to provide routine assistance to the legal attaché at the US mission,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in her daily briefing in Washington on Wednesday.
Cox was released on bail of Rs1,000,000 (about $10,000) by a Karachi court on Thursday evening. He was ordered to appear for further hearings.
Aslam confirmed that the agent was not a diplomat and therefore did not enjoy immunity from prosecution. She said that he was in the country on a valid short-term visit visa.
“The US authorities are in contact with us both in Washington and in Islamabad. Consular access was requested and it was granted. That’s where the matter stands at the moment,” she said.
Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim